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Minority Voting Rights

McCrory v. Harris and Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 12-21-16 featuring Jack Park
John J. Park, Jr. December 21, 2016

On December 5, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCrory v. Harris and Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. In these related cases, the Court considered redistricting plans introduced in North Carolina and Virginia after the 2010 census.

Plaintiffs in McCrory argued that North Carolina used the Voting Rights Act’s “Black Voting Age Population” requirements as a pretext to place more black voters in two particular U.S. House of Representatives districts in order to reduce black voters’ influence in other districts. The district court determined that the redistricting plan was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander that violated the Equal Protection Clause because race was the predominant factor motivating the new plan.

Plaintiffs in Bethune-Hill each resided in one of twelve newly proposed majority-minority districts for the Virginia Legislature, created to satisfy Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires that any new districting plan must ensure that there be no “retrogression” in the ability of racial minorities to elect the candidate of their choice. They argued that the new districts constituted racial gerrymanders that violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court held that the plaintiffs did not establish that race was the predominant factor in the creation of 11 of the 12 challenged districts. The district court also held that, although race was the predominant factor in the creation of one district, the General Assembly was pursuing a narrowly tailored compelling state interest in creating it.

In McCrory, appellants contend the lower court decision against them erred in five critical ways: (1) presuming racial predominance from North Carolina's legitimate reliance on Supreme Court precedent; (2) applying a standard of review that required the State to demonstrate its construction of North Carolina Congressional District 1 was “actually necessary” under the VRA instead of simply showing it had “good reasons” to believe the district, as created, was needed to foreclose future vote dilution claims; (3) relieving plaintiffs of their burden to prove “race rather than politics” predominated with proof of a workable alternative plan; (4) clearly erroneous fact-finding; and (5) failing to dismiss plaintiffs' claims as being barred by claim preclusion or issue preclusion. Appellants further argue that, in the interests of judicial comity and federalism, the Supreme Court should order full briefing and oral argument to resolve the split between the court below and the North Carolina Supreme Court which reached the opposite result in a case raising identical claims.

The Bethune-Hill appellants also assert five errors by the lower court: (1) holding that race cannot predominate even where it is the most important consideration in drawing a given district unless the use of race results in “actual conflict” with traditional districting criteria; (2) concluding that the admitted use of a one-size-fits-all 55% black voting age population floor to draw twelve separate House of Delegates districts did not amount to racial predominance and trigger strict scrutiny; (3) disregarding the admitted use of race in drawing district lines in favor of examining circumstantial evidence regarding the contours of the districts; (4) holding that racial goals must negate all other districting criteria in order for race to predominate; and (5) concluding that the General Assembly's predominant use of race in drawing House District 75 was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest.

To discuss the case, we have Jack Park, who is Of Counsel at Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.

Redistricting Tested in the Supreme Court - Podcast

Free Speech & Election Law and Civil Rights Practice Groups Podcast
Maya Noronha December 07, 2016

On December 5, the U.S. Supreme Court will hold oral arguments on two redistricting cases, Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections and McCrory v. Harris. After the movement of population, both Virginia and North Carolina legislatures redrew plans for their state legislative districts. However, plaintiffs in each state challenged the plans as racial gerrymanders diluting the vote of African-American voters. Both cases raise the question of how to comply with the Voting Rights Act requirement that racial minorities have the ability to elect representatives of their choice, along with the Constitutional prohibition of race predominating in the drawing of plans. The Court will be also be asked to clarify the acceptable ways to consider minority populations in drawing plans, what plaintiffs need to show to prove a racial gerrymander, and what would trigger strict scrutiny.

Featuring:

  • Ms. Maya M. Noronha, Associate, Baker & Hostetler LLP

 

Wittman v. Personhuballah - Post-Decision SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 6-15-16 featuring Derek Muller
Derek Muller June 15, 2016

On May 23, 2016, the Supreme Court decided Wittman v. Personhuballah. In 2012, the Virginia State Legislature adopted a redistricting plan that altered the composition of the Third Congressional District by increasing the percentage of African-American voters in the district. In 2013, a number of Third District residents sued state election officials, arguing that the District was racially gerrymandered in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge district court agreed and held the redistricting plan to be unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its intervening decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. On remand, the district court again held that the redistricting plan was unconstitutional and ordered the Virginia General Assembly to devise a remedial plan. When the Assembly did not do so the court devised its own remedial plan and ordered election officials to implement it.

Ten Members of Congress from Virginia, intervenors in the District Court below, appealed its rejection of the 2012 plan to the Supreme Court, alleging various errors in the District Court’s reasoning. By a vote of 8-0, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Breyer indicated that the intervenors lacked standing to pursue their appeal.

To discuss the case, we have Derek Muller, who is Associate Professor of Law at Pepperdine University School of Law.

“One Person, One Vote”?: Supreme Court Decides Evenwel v. Abbott - Podcast

Civil Rights Practice Group Podcast
Andrew Grossman April 04, 2016

In an 8-0 judgement announced on April 4, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it is permissible, but not mandatory, to draw legislative districts based on total population rather than on voting population. Our expert discussed Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, as well as the concurrences of Justices Thomas and Alito.

Featuring:

  • Andrew Grossman, Partner, Baker & Hostetler LLP, and Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute

Wittman v. Personhuballah - Post-Argument SCOTUScast

SCOTUScast 3-30-16 featuring Derek Muller
Derek Muller March 30, 2016

On March 21, 2016, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Wittman v. Personhuballah. In 2012, the Virginia State Legislature adopted a redistricting plan that altered the composition of the Third Congressional District by increasing the percentage of African-American voters in the district. In 2013, plaintiffs, who reside in the Third District, sued state election officials, arguing that the District was racially gerrymandered in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge district court agreed and held the districting plan to be unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of its intervening decision in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama. On remand, the district court held that the redistricting plan failed strict scrutiny and ordered the Virginia General Assembly to devise a remedial plan. When the Assembly did not do so the court devised its own remedial plan and ordered election officials to implement it.

On further appeal, there are four questions now before the Supreme Court: (1) Whether the court below erred in failing to make the required finding that race rather than politics predominated in District 3, where there is no dispute that politics explains the Enacted Plan; (2) whether the court below erred in relieving plaintiffs of their burden to show an alternative plan that achieves the General Assembly's political goals, is comparably consistent with traditional districting principles, and brings about greater racial balance than the Enacted Plan; (3) whether, regardless of any other error, the finding of a Shaw violation by the court below was based on clearly erroneous fact-finding; (4) whether the majority erred in holding that the Enacted Plan fails strict scrutiny because it increased District 3's black voting-age population percentage above the benchmark percentage, when the undisputed evidence establishes that the increase better complies with neutral principles than would reducing the percentage and no racial bloc voting analysis would support a reduction capable of realistically securing Section 5 preclearance.

To discuss the case, we have Derek Muller, who is Associate Professor of Law at Pepperdine University School of Law.